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Relations Between Indians and Spaniards

Lewis Hanke

Such a large part of the Spanish history in America involves the relations between the conquering Spaniards and the conquered Indians that this whole volume might be devoted to it. So much controversy has swirled around the subject from 1492 until today that selecting representative material is a difficult task. No great champions of the Indians came to the fore in Brazil comparable to such figures as Bartolom de Las Casas in Spanish America except the Jesuit Antnio de Vieira, who will be presented in Section V. This fact, combined with the condition of the Indians in Brazil, who were much more primitive than the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas, resulted in a much less dramatic cultural clash between the Portuguese and the indigenous peoples they encountered during the colonial period in Brazil. We therefore limit this section to the Spanish experience in America, although interesting parallels may be drawn by consulting such works as Dr. Mathias Kiemens writings.1 The struggle for justice for the Indians began in the conquests earliest years, although the sermons of Antonio de Montesinos marked the first sharp, public confrontation of colonists and friars on how the Indians were to be treated justly, according to Christian doctrine (Reading III.I).

Mathias Kiemen, The Indian Policy of Portugal in America, with Special Reference to the Old State of Maranho. 1500-1755, The Americas, V (1948), pp. 131-171; The Indian Policy of Portugal in the Amazon Region, 1614-1693 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1954).

The struggle for justice occurred because the crown, ecclesiastics, and even some soldiers wanted the conquest to be conducted justly, for one of the principal aims of Spain was to Christianize the Indians. What constituted justice and how it could be achieved were thorny questions; they were raised frequently during the discovery, colonization, and administration of the new dominions. One immediate problem the Spanish captains faced in the New World was how to conduct a just war against the Indians. The Requirement, drawn up in 1512 to be read before hostilities began, was the answer of Dr. Palacios Rubios (Reading III.2). This document rests upon principles accepted for many years by the crown, as the Mexican scholar Silvio Zavala explains (Reading III.3). The Spaniards were legal-minded and within twenty years after the landfall of Columbus had worked out the Laws of Burgos for the treatment of the Indians (Reading III.4). In 1542, they devised the New Laws, after terrific disputes in Spain (Reading III.5), and by 1573 they had promulgated the basic law on conquests (Reading III.6). Each of these Laws has a long and complicated history, and a careful reading of them and some of the controversial interpretations of them reveals much of the spirit and practice peculiar to Spanish legislation. The system the Spaniards used for more than a century to regulate Indian labor was the encomienda, a medieval institution adapted to New World conditions. A representative title by which a Spaniard received the right to an encomienda indicates the formal rights and duties of an encomendero (Reading III.7). The way in which encomenderos and other Spaniards actually treated the Indians has been heatedly debated. In one example the activities of the royal court (audiencia) in New Galicia has been described by Professor John H. Parry of Harvard University (Reading III.8). Spaniards have been sensitive since the sixteenth century to attacks upon their actions in America, particularly to the allegations often made by their political enemies that they mistreated the Indians, whom they considered as their wards to be protected and Christianized. One of the most reasoned defences to be made in Spain was prepared by the eminent seventeenth-century administrator and juris-consult Juan de Solrzano y Pereira (Reading III.9). The well-meaning segregation laws, remarks Magnus Mrner of Queens College, only served to increase the tension which, in spite of the mixing of the races, has endured between the red and the white inhabitants (Reading III.10). Interpretations of Spanish action have greatly varied. Professor Charles Gibson of the

University of Michigan concludes that the Indians were in fact exploited (Reading III.11),

whereas The Dawn of Conscience in America (Reading III.12) looks at the problem from a somewhat different angle. These and the other approaches included in the Bibliographic Suggestions will be enlightening for students of history.

A. The First Cry for Justice in America

1. The Sermons of Friar Antonio de Montesinos, 1511

On the Sunday before Christmas in 1511 a Dominican friar named Antonio de Montesinos preached a revolutionary sermon in a straw-thatched church on the island of Hispaniola. Speaking on the text I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Montesinos delivered the first important and deliberate public protest against the kind of treatment being accorded the Indians by his Spanish countrymen. This first cry on behalf of human liberty in the New World was a turning point in the history of America and, as Pedro Henriquez Urea termed it, one of the great events in the spiritual history of mankind. The sermon, preached before the best people of the first Spanish town established in the New World, was designed to shock and terrify its hearers. Montesinos thundered, according to Las Casas:
In order to make your sins against the Indians known to you I have come up on this pulpit, I who am a voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island, and therefore it behoves you to listen, not with careless attention, but with all your heart and senses, so that you may hear it; for this is going to be the strangest voice that ever you heard, the harshest and hardest and most awful and most dangerous that ever you expected to hear This voice says that you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do

Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company (Inc.) 1965), pp. 17-18, Copyright 1949, American Historical Association; Copyright 1965, Little, Brown and Company (Inc.), Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company and the University of Pennsylvania Press.

you keep these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged a detestable war against these people, who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their land? ... Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness? For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day. And what care do you take that they should be instructed in religion? Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? Be certain that, in such a state as this, you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks.

Montesinos thereupon strode out of the church with head high, leaving a muttering crowd of colonists and officials behind him, who were astounded, but not one was converted. He had come as near to convincing his hearers of their wrongdoing as would a theological student in our day who delivered a soapbox philippic in Wall Street on the biblical text Sell that which thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. The colonists gathered at the house of the Governor, Diego Columbus, protested against the sermon as a scandalous denial of the lordship of the king in the Indies, and delegated a group which went indignantly to the monastery to exact an apology and disavowal. The vicar, Pedro de Crdoba, unimpressed by the delegations threat to expel the offensive friar, assured them that Montesinos had spoken for the Dominican group. He promised, however, that Montesinos would preach the next Sunday on the same topic. The colonists thereupon retired, believing they had won their point. Word of the expected retreat spread quickly, and the following Sunday most of the leading Spaniards crowded into the church. Montesinos mounted the pulpit and announced the disquieting text Suffer me a little, and I will show thee that I have yet to speak on Gods behalf. Rather than explaining away his previous sermon the dialectic subtleties, he proceeded to belabor the colonists anew, with even more passion than before, warning them that the friars would no more receive them for confession and absolution than if they were so many highway robbers. And they might write home what they pleased, to whom they pleased.

These words were soon heard in Spain, even by the King. On March 20, 1512, Ferdinand ordered Governor Diego Columbus to reason with Montesinors. If the Dominican and his brothers persisted in their error, previously condemned by the canonists, theologians, and learned men gathered to deliberate on the problem ten years before, the Governor was instructed to send them to Spain by the first ship so that their Superior might punish them because every hour that they remain in the islands holding such wrong ideas they will do much harm. Three days later on March 23, 1512, the Dominican Superior in Spain, Alonso de Loaysa, reproved Montesinos in an official communication to the Dominican Provincial in Hispaniola and ordered him to prevail upon the friars to stop preaching such scandalous doctrine. continue. Thus began the first great struggle for justice in the New World. The Provincial was warned that no more friars would be sent if such preaching were permitted to

B. Just War Against the Indians

2. The Requirement, 1512

On the part of the King, don Fernando, and of doa Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castille and Leon, subduers of the barbarous nations, we their servants notify and make known to you, as best we can, that the Lord our God, Living and Eternal, created the Heaven and the Earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and I, and all the men of the world, were and are descendents, and all those who came after us. But, on account of the multitude which has sprung from this man and woman in the five thousand years since the world was created, it was

Lewis Hanke, The Development of Regulations for Conquistadores. Contribuciones para el studio de la

historia de Amrica: Homenaje al Dr. Emilio Ravignani (Buenos Aries: Editores Peuser, Ltda., 1941). pp.
73-75, Copyright 1949, American Historical Association; Copyrights 1965, Little, Brown and Company (Inc.), Reprinted by permission.

necessary that some men should go one way and some another, and that they should be divided into many kingdoms and provinces, for in one alone they could not be sustained. Of all these nations God our Lord gave charge to one man, called St. Peter, that he should be Lord and Superior of all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be head of the whole human race, wherever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction. And he commanded him to place his seat in Rome, as the spot most fitting to rule the world from; but also he permitted him to have his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, and all other sects. This man was called Pope, as if to say, Admirable Great Father and Governor of men. The men who lived in that time obeyed that St. Peter, and took him for Lord, King, and Superior of the universe; so also have they regarded the others who after him have been elected to the Pontificate, and so it has been continued even until now, and will continue until the end of the world. One of these Pontiffs who succeeded that St. Peter as Lord of the world, in the dignity and seat which I have before mentioned, made donation of these isles and Terra-firme to the aforesaid King and Queen and to their successors, our lords, with all that there are in these territories, as is contained in certain writings which passed upon the subject as aforesaid, which you can see if you wish. So their Highnesses are kings and lords of these islands and land of Terra-firme by virtue of this donation; and some islands, and indeed almost all those to whom this has been notified, have received and served their Highnesses, as lords and kings, in the way that subjects ought to do, with good will, without any resistance, immediately, without delay, when they were informed of the aforesaid facts. And also they received and obeyed the priests whom their Highnesses sent to preach to them and to teach them our Holy Faith; and all these, of their own free will, without any reward or conditions, have become Christians, and are so, and their Highnesses have joyfully and benignantly received them, and also have commanded them to be treated as their subjects and vassals; and you too are held and obligated to do the same. Wherefore as best we can, we ask and require you that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world and the high priest called Pope, and in

his name the King and Queen doa Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this Terra-firme by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and give place that these religious fathers should declare and preach to you the aforesaid. If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obligated to do to their Highnesses, and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude, that you may do with them and with yourselves freely that which you like and think best, and they shall not compel you to turn Christians, unless you yourselves, when informed of the truth, should wish to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith, as almost all the inhabitants of the rest of the islands have done. And besides this, their Highnesses award you many privileges and exceptions and will grant you many benefits. But if you do not do this, and wickedly and intentionally delay to do so, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall forcibly enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do all the harm and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who came with us. And that we have said this to you and made this Requirement, we request the notary here present to give us his testimony in writing, and we ask the rest who are present that they should be witnesses of this Requirement.

SOURCE: Title: History of Latin American civilization: sources and interpretations, Volume 1 Compiled by: Lewis Hanke Publisher: Little, Brown, 1967 Original from: University of Virginia Pages: 119-125